The Psychology of Adoption – Adoptees Pt2

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The Psychology of Adoption – Adoptees Pt2

The psychology of adoption. To begin at the beginning with the follow on of the pre-memory family for an adoptee from Pt1. People who are not adopted at birth, but adopted later, have what is called a pre-memory, to varying degrees, depending on what age they were adopted. This is described as having experienced life prior to adoption. A person adopted at birth or several days after, has no pre-memory. This is very significant in an adopted person’s life. The pre-memory is an experience. It is a yard stick which can be used to measure other experiences. Without this, there is only trauma. Therefore, the life which ensues will be lived through this experience of trauma.

There is enormous grief for a baby that waits 9 months to meet someone they are not going to meet. There is also enormous grief for someone who is unable to have a child or has lost a child/children. There is enormous grief for someone who can’t keep their child. There is also enormous disappointment in not being able to have a child. Following on from this comes with it suppression. Biological mothers are told to “get on with their lives”, biological fathers are largely removed from the picture, adoptive parents feign moving on with life “as if it were their own child”, dealing with the issue of adoption on a very minimalist level and of course the adoptee isn’t encouraged to ask questions which in the end all leads to a huge cover up with lots of damaged people.

Adoptees have issues with abandonment. This coincides with the first paragraph of being removed from mother at birth. To an adoptee, it is life threatening. During the course of life, the threat of any form of abandonment or rejection is mostly catastrophic. Adoptees will respond to this depending on the level of desensitisation they have experienced. It won’t however eliminate the deep seeded internal reaction of terror. This abandonment at birth cannot be recalled but is remembered in the lymbic system. There is no pre-trauma personality. For a non adopted person, a trauma which happens in life that changes the way you are, will always have had a pre-trauma personality. In other words, at some point, you were ok. The human brain works before it is built, so experience is the architect for the brain. The neurons which fire together, wire together thus forming a path of “what is normal”. If life begins with a trauma and it is life threatening, as it is for a baby taken from its mother, the neurons will fire. This is why adoptees have a real fear of abandonment in relationships. They have a hunger to attach with the opposing force that it is not safe to attach. As obscure as this might sound, adoptees subconsciously believe that feelings of fear, shame, unworthiness, anxiety and unlovableness are a part of them as there is nothing to compare that to. These feelings are multiplied with each early trauma abandonment. The baby is first taken from its mother, perhaps placed in an orphanage, perhaps fostered, maybe more than once, adopted, one adoptive parent leaves the home. Every one of those is another relinquishment/rejection/abandonment and compounding. Their first experience of life was filled with raised levels of cortisol and adrenaline and reduced levels of seratonin – the soothing and comforting hormone. Babies who are separated from their mothers at birth have different levels of chemicals from that of a baby who was not. Adoptees feel rejected easily. I recently conducted a brief study. I posted the question, to two different groups of people. One to adoptees only, the other to biologically raised people. Both groups were of global responses. Both sets of responses included male and female respondents of varying ages. The question was “How would you react if someone stood you up with no explanation?”. The results, to me, were not surprising however this does highlight the difference between biologically raised children compared to those who were taken from their mothers at birth or near to.

Adoptee Group:

It can cause me anxiety when something like that happens. I engage in a lot of self talk or inner child talk to settle myself down. 99.9% of the time, it is so innocent on the other person’s side but I have to work hard to not take it personal.

I feel rejected sometimes and internally I wonder if I did something to upset the person or if something is wrong with me.

I never even thought it could be a trigger … if you stand me up, I’m done and I don’t deal with you because you won’t waste my time ever again.

It used to drive me crazy. Today I learned to let it go.

It used to absolutely slay me … therapy on this issue has corrected it.

I feel angry and rejected. My reactions have wrecked a lot of friendships in my life.

It took a long time to realise it wasn’t personal.

I take it personally. I take it as if I am not worthy enough for them to follow through on what they told me they would do. Feel rejected.

It took a long time for me to realise it wasn’t personal.

After being disappointed and let down by almost everyone I knew, I decided to expect nothing from others anymore. So at least that saves me from being disappointed. I try not to look forward to anything: it might be ruined. People might not show up.

Biological Group:

This happens very often. I don’t like it one bit. It seems to say that I don’t need an explanation and that they don’t have to give one. It makes me feel as if I don’t matter.

Have had that happen for years. After a while you learn to never rely on that person. But it is annoying, frustrating and hurtful.

It’s annoying to start with …if the person frequently did it, you would only book in with them if you had nothing better to do as you would not want to rely on them.

Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Forgiving is a wonderful trait…if this person keeps re-offending I would go around my business being pleasant but not trusting them to keep their word.

If you want an explanation you need to ask for one, don’t frustrate yourself by waiting for one.

It is hurtful. People need to be honest.

…If I’m not there within half hour of the specified time, I won’t be coming; and that could be for any number of reasons. We would then move on and get over it. Everyone wants everything explained to them and held by the hand these days. Water off a ducks back as far as I am concerned.


Both groups don’t like being stood up. Both groups have negative feelings about being stood up. Adoptees have difficulties wrestling with the event, tending to take it more personally than those who were not adopted. They tend to see it as their fault that it occurred whereas the biological group did not see it as their fault, but more that it was inconsiderate on the other person’s behalf.

The human infant can hear sounds in the last two months of pregnancy. The mother/infant bonding begins very early. The infant, continually in preparation to meet mum. Within 24 hours of birth, the human infant can detect its mother’s breast milk and detect different smells. The mother/infant bonding has an enormous impact on brain chemicals and neurotransmitters. In the first year of life, there is no explicit memory. No emotional responses, no sense of self and others, no attitude about the world and others. There is no memory of what happened, just that something happened. Attachment theory is inbuilt in the system. It motivates to seek proximity to their caregiver. In the absence of mother, the infant will make a lot of noise.

In therapy, adoptees present as being together and grounded. Mostly, adoptees present to therapy during the break between relationships when they’re sensible and rarely talk about the fact that they’re adopted as if it’s not relevant. Health issues for adoptees include gastrointestinal problems, rashes, nervous disorders, skin disorders, sleep disorders and difficulty managing mood. There are somatic memory traces. Body/Mind/Spirit. Trauma in life creates a chemistry in the body to which there is a physical reaction. This can cause stomach sickness, headaches, skin disorders. It’s an emotional upheaval. Seratonin released in the body is about soothing. Low levels lead to addiction and the need to self soothe. In an effort to self-soothe, addictive habits and behaviours manifest like compulsive masturbation, use of sweets/sugar, alcohol abuse, drug use, eating disorders and sexual promiscuity. They manage self esteem by spending money. The circle of sabotage and create another debt once it (the debt) nears the end. Adoptees live in a chemical factory which was triggered into production at birth. They live on “red alert”. The feeling of shame that “I’m not good enough”, is at level 10 as opposed to 9.5 in other addicts. Addiction helps adoptees manage shame. The low levels of seratonin provoking thoughts of “It’s not ok and I’m not ok.” Addiction and adoption go hand in hand. Adoption can also cause co-occurring disorders like addiction and PTSD. There can also be developmental PTSD. Adoptees don’t have a reference point for who they are, so adopt coping behaviour. This includes lots of holding back of personality. Trauma takes away verbal skills therefore behaviours are a form of communication. Think of a baby before it learns to speak, especially a toddler, they act out often. Unless addressed, the essence of coping behaviour doesn’t change as the adoptee matures.

How the new mother handles the situation of a child they have adopted is important. Babies don’t know self regulation. New mums need to be attuned to their baby. If they are unaware and can’t soothe the baby, the yearning will always be there along with feelings of “no one gets it, no one understands.” Adoptive parents need to tune in, try and understand their feelings and soothe baby. Adoptees have what is known as a “bad baby syndrome”. If I was given up by my mother then that must mean that I don’t have value. Of course this is not true but a child doesn’t understand that and it’s at this point when the brain is being wired into beliefs and reality. The other thing to watch out for is that actions speak louder than words, so even if the adopted child is told something positive about the separation, there is no way of knowing until the biological mother, family or records have been found. Even then, it can be difficult to absorb. Up to around the age of 9, the human infant lives in self centeredness. Everything of and in the world is about them. Attempts by the infant to explain the unacceptable is learned by internally saying “it’s my fault”. For example, is daddy leaving because I don’t pick up my toys? The lymbic system kicks in first, then the brain logic. This is caused by the early trauma which causes hypervigilence, anxiety and catastrophic thinking because the wound at beginning of life, was life threatening. Adoptees have large amounts of ambivalence. Their attachment wound causes them to work out what to do to be accepted to be a separate person in a successful relationship. They think and fire on “to be myself in a relationship requires that I {be this way} because if I don’t, then I won’t be attractive.” The chronic trauma requires them to try to fit in. As previously mentioned, adoptees have an enormous hunger for attachment and feel rejected easily. There is also the underlying belief of shame and anxiety which says the world is not a safe place so don’t show who you are. Adoptees are also very independent. They view tasks as “if you want to get anything done, to do it yourself.”

In an adopted child, because cortisol and adrenaline are raised in trauma, concentration and focus are affected. Remember adoptees live on “red alert”. The situation affects brain development. It affects their education. Their lack of direction can also be a hindrance when it comes to choosing direction in career. Another trait of an adopted person is they often need to create stress to manage mood. They will arrive at a point in their life where things are going too smoothly, which is out of their “normal” realm and so create an experience of stress to make the world seem “normal” again for them. Birthdays can be a particularly depressing time. Many adoptees grieve the loss of their mother. It is a trigger of mourning for them. Often adoptees become sad and depressed on their birthdays and may not be aware of the cause.


Adoptees have the slow loss of self belief that I can’t be myself in a relationship because the first time that I did, it was disasterous. The mindset then becomes wired to “I’m going to have to be hypervigilant.” With regards to secure and insecure attachments: It’s not so much what happens to you in life that throws you, it’s what happens to you in the beginning in life. If your beginning of life was not strongly grounded, everything which follows is chaos. Tree roots which aren’t strong enough, will blow over. It causes the brain to work around an issue rather than manage it, a bit like a plant growing around a stone. The adoptee will be more likely to bend and adjust to become part of the relationship rather than value his or her own uniqueness (they probably don’t even know what their uniqueness is). Adoptees believe that the person that they’ve adapted to become, is actually who they are, which is not the case. They are desperate to bond, with sex and love prevelant, however the need can be too high for the partner of an adoptee and they cannot provide what the adoptee yearns for. Many adoptees remain single as it’s more manageable rather than dealing with attachment issues, trust issues, the things which ground relationships. Emotional stability of the human child is 75% dependent upon the mother being able to know herself. To be able to give an emotionally coherent story about herself and her life. If she can do this, then the child will have a chance at being well balanced. When you don’t see yourself reflected back within the family, you don’t have the sense that “I’m ok and I fit in.” The adoptive mother doesn’t know what their adoptive child’s personality will be as opposed to a biological mother who will have a fairly good idea. Adopted children tend to blame themselves when something goes wrong. It’s a deep belief so they make sure that it won’t happen again. Hence one of the reasons they shut people out. It is part of their belief system which tells them that it must be who they are. We think of rejection, we think “not wanted” which is exactly what the adopted child grows up in and is wired to.

When being adopted out, it’s more than if not, not about the same eye colour or hair colour. It’s about the differences in the way the adoptive parent and the adopted child walk, it’s about their mannerism and genetic markers which makes them different. Reflection of self is important. People need self validation and not having that is a big inhibitor. With regards to adoptees history and records, we’re talking about a time when all this was sealed. If there isn’t truth connected to adoptive relationships then there is lots of falseness, which is largely how adoptees have lived their lives. The sealing of their records is a hindrance. People can deal with the truth, it gives them something to work with no matter how painful it might be however it is more difficult and painful to live not knowing. The opening of personal and ancestral records is necessary for psychological, genetic and biological well being in a person’s life. There is a whole segment of the population cut off from knowing their genetic history. Every person on this planet has a human right to know where they came from.

It’s interesting. I just read how E.T., in his opening scene, is left on earth while his ship heads home. How in introducing the character, the audience is immediately endeared to him because they have the “terrifying feeling of watching his ship head home without him that immediately endears us to the alien. We’re afraid for him. We want him to find a way back.” This might be a great way to akin what it’s like being adopted. The only differences are that we don’t have a pre-memory and we may not find our way home. In fact, in reality, we never find our way home. We were not raised by our biological parents and we are not of the family which did raise us. All adoptees that I’ve encountered say the same thing. “Something is missing inside me. A hole still remains.” This is something which will never be filled, so in that sense, we are never whole and can never go home.

You would think that with all these issues, that it’s a wonder how any of us can even exist in this world. Sadly, many of us have not. Many adoptees have taken their lives. For the most part, we have spent our entire lives learning how to cope, how to fit in, how to be strong and how to survive. We are all different but we all have one common thread – adoption. Now, if we could only understand it and ourselves.

Note: The above is reflective of adoptions which were closed, meaning that there is no cross contact or information given about both the biological parents and the adoptive parents until much later in life. The above information is also not reflective of every adopted person in every situation but based on findings.


Much of this can be credited to Paul Sunderland’s work, the link provided below.

Paul Sunderland

Paul Sunderland – Adoption and Addiction

Nancy Verrier

Nancy Verrier – The Primal Wound

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